NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – Hundreds of thousands gathered in Manhattan for a massive rally to demand action on climate change. March organizers said people had become frustrated by United Nation’s inaction on global warming so they gathered two days ahead of a high-level UN General Assembly meeting on climate change.
Organizers for the “People’s Climate March” reported a crowd of 311,000 people in New York City–with participants from as far away as Rome, Italy and as nearby as The Bronx in the streets of Manhattan. They came to voice their concerns to world leaders like UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who spoke ahead of the march.
“We march today to say that climate change is affecting us locally. The asthma rate in The Bronx is eight times the national average and that the dynamic must change, we are not here just to march and go back home to sit on our couches,” Mychal Johnson, director of South Bronx United, told The Final Call.
Sgt. Gerald Brown, a Vietnam combat veteran, and a member of Vets for Clean Air, out of Philadelphia, was marching for his 26 grandchildren “so they can experience fresh air and fishing in clean water.”
“Seven of my grandchildren and two of my children suffer from asthma which I attribute to climate change,” the three time Purple Heart recipient told The Final Call.
Dr. Camille A. Claire, M.D. M.P.H., assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the New York Metropolitan Hospital Center, and Dr. Mark A. Mitchell, M.D. M.P.H., a Connecticut-based public health physician and a member of the U.S. EPA’s National Advisory Committee marched under the banner of the National Medical Association. The group represents some 37,000 Black physicians nationwide.
“Climate change is a national issue for the NMA,” Dr. Claire told The Final Call. We are using the march as a platform to get the word out that we have the data, we have the evidence that Black people are facing health issues due to climate change, she added.
Dr. Claire was referring to a survey released in June by the NMA and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change concluding Black patients were being treated more frequently for increases in chronic heart and lung diseases, including asthma due to air pollution and heat-related effects, injuries from severe storms and floods following downpours–all tied to climate change.
Nearly all of the respondents (88 percent), representing Black physicians from 33 states, felt climate change is relevant to direct patient care and has harmed people in their cities in the past decade. The doctors believe their patients will continue to be harmed by climate change in the next 10 to 20 years.
Vulnerable groups will be disproportionately affected by climate change, including people with chronic diseases who live near or below the poverty line, including young children and adults over the age of 60, the survey concluded.
“We wanted a report that would be useful in getting federal agencies to understand that climate change was affecting people’s health and that the government must become more engaged in developing solutions,” said Dr. Mona Sarfaty, M.D., M.P.H. of George Mason University.
We had wondered if physicians were seeing it the same way the climate scientists viewed the effects of climate change on health issues and they partnered with the NMA, she said.
Dr. Mitchell explained to The Final Call why the survey was important to Black physicians.
“Black physicians were becoming more and more concerned with how the environment affected their patients who were disproportionately affected by the heat spells that raised the level of heart disease, and subsequently their patients were dying at a higher rate,” Dr. Mitchell said.
The NMA realized surveys were showing Blacks were more concerned about the health effects of climate change than Whites, but a vehicle was needed to get this message out to the public.
Dr. Mitchell, who also serves as the co-chairman of the NMA Environmental Task Force, said the George Mason University survey would be used to kick off a campaign helping Black physicians “green up” their offices.
Marta Aguayo is a health educator at Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Los Angeles office. In her region there is now a 24/7 fire season that translates into more emergency room visits and a longer asthma season.
Climate change has brought longer periods of pollen distress and more cases of the West Nile Virus, added Ms. Aguayo.
In 2007, a paper was disseminated by Environmental and Urbanization Researchers at the Center on the Epidemiology of Disasters in Brussels, Belgium, warning that August 2005 Hurricane Katrina highlighted the general vulnerability of urban areas to climate hazards more likely to affect poorer, more vulnerable populations with the least political influence.
The survey noted that 88 percent of responding physicians felt Washington should make a large scale effort to protect people from climate change, even if it has large economic costs.
On Sept. 10, the NYC Office of Emergency Management issued a warning on its website that flash flooding could cause severe sewer backups that could pose serious health risks. Some said when the sewage system in NYC gets backed up in severe rain storms, it causes sewage to seep into the water supply. The NMA/George Mason University survey talks about waterborne agents that may cause Lyme disease and diarrhea, and that mental health problems are related to these health issues.
Dr. Gerald W. Deas, M.D., professor in Preventive Medicine at Down State Medical Center in Brooklyn, and a longtime columnist for the New York Amsterdam News told The Final Call more and more patients are showing up with problems such as skin falling off, hair falling out, pollutants dissolving inside of stomachs and things happening due to climate change.
“The question is how to get people aroused about such things,” Dr. Deas said. “The poor people in this country are in the same state of affairs.”
Peggy M. Shepard, executive director of West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. told The Final Call “we haven’t begun to see the health impacts from climate change.”
Ms. Shepard said there needs to be legislation that controls carbon emissions, clean heat and reducing toxics from pesticides. “Big issues in low-income communities,” she said.
Desmond Batts, Natasia Baker and Chauna Smikle, members of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, argue that climate change comes into their neighborhoods in the form of torrential rain and heavy snowfall. “Studies show that Black people cannot evacuate, leave their homes during these storms,” Mr. Batts told The Final Call. “Black people no longer have the choice of denying that climate change exists–because it now smacks us directly in the face.”